Hong Kong Security Law Is Passed, Giving China Sweeping New Powers

China passed a contentious new law for Hong Kong on Tuesday that would empower the authorities to crack down on opposition to Beijing, risking deeper rifts with Western governments that have warned about the erosion of freedoms in the territory.

The law’s swift approval in Beijing signaled the urgency that the Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping, has given to expanding control in Hong Kong after the territory was convulsed by pro-democracy protests last year.

The law underscores Beijing’s resolve to achieve a political sea change in Hong Kong, a former British colony with its own legal system and civil liberties absent in mainland China. It could be used to stifle protests like those that last year evolved into an increasingly confrontational, and sometimes violent, challenge to Chinese rule.

The Chinese legislature approved the law a day before July 1, the politically charged anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997, which regularly draws pro-democracy protests. On the anniversary last year, a massive peaceful demonstration gave way to violence when a small group of activists broke into the Hong Kong legislature, smashing glass walls and spray-painting slogans on walls.

The security law was approved by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, an elite arm of China’s party-controlled legislature, in a process that drew criticism for its unusual secrecy.

Breaking from normal procedure, the committee did not release a draft of the law for public comment. Hong Kong’s activists, legal scholars and officials were left to debate or defend the bill based on details released by China’s state news media earlier this month.

“The fact that the Chinese authorities have now passed this law without the people of Hong Kong being able to see it tells you a lot about their intentions,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of Amnesty International’s China team. “Their aim is to govern Hong Kong through fear from this point forward.”

The law calls for Hong Kong’s government to establish a new agency to oversee enforcement of the new rules. Beijing will create its own separate security arm in Hong Kong, empowered to investigate special cases and collect intelligence.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s top official, has said that the law will target only an “extremely small minority of illegal and criminal acts and activities” and will make the territory safer for most residents.

But critics say that the new security agencies and politically shaded categories of crime, such as “inciting separatism,” could send a chill across Hong Kong society.

“Potentially, the security law penetrates a lot of activities that contribute to the vibrancy of Hong Kong’s civil society and the character of this international city and financial center,” said Cora Chan, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong who has studied China’s drive for security legislation.

Activists are worried that the law could target those who peacefully call for true autonomy for the territory, as opposed to independence. “They are doing whatever it takes to crack down on dissent and opposition here. It’s just unthinkable in the year 2020,” said Ms. Mo, the pro-democracy lawmaker. “This is a huge departure from civilization.”

The new law delivered a blow to Hong Kong’s opposition forces even before it officially went into effect. Four senior members of Demosisto, a political organization in Hong Kong that has drawn disaffected young people, announced that they were quitting the group, citing the threat from the new law. They included Joshua Wong, a leader of the 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations known as the Umbrella Movement.

“From now on, #Hongkong enters a new era of reign of terror,” Mr. Wong wrote on Twitter. Announcing his decision to leave Demosisto in a post on Facebook, he said: “I will continue to hold fast to my home — Hong Kong, until they silence and obliterate me from this land.”



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